The making of a signature cocktail… With Annalisa Suarez!

You’re finally here! At the point in the planning process where you get to make the “fun” decisions. Or you’ve given up on finding a venue today and you want to talk about what brand of champagne really suits you.

Regardless, signature cocktails and deciding what drinks you want at your wedding is important! It sets the tone for what your wedding will be, and what level of celebration you are looking for during happy hour, at the reception, and into the rest of the night.

So to help you out, we met up with local bartender, all-around drink-slingin’ badass, the lady that you always hope to see on a night out… Annalisa Suarez!

A homegrown Reno-ite, Annalisa grew up in restaurants, familiar with the hustle and bustle of the business and ultimately grew to become a bartender herself at many of the local Casinos in the area. But of course, we all know her is as our favorite bartender – voted best in the 2018 RNR “best bartender” category! – at the local hang, Pignic Pub and Patio. After working in the classic Nevada gambling scene, she observed about her almost 4 years at Pignic, “…I think this is home. I love this place… [and] it’s so nice to work for a local company.”

She brought skill sets from her years behind the bar, as well as from learning from a mixologist flown in from Florida during her time at the Atlantis. “He’s the one who taught me how to make drinks with fresh lemon juice,  grapefruit juice, how to use… high end spirits and why.” If you venture to the steakhouse there now, some of her original creations are still on the menu.

TB: How do you feel about signature cocktails in general? Like for a wedding, a business event, anything.

A: I think they’re perfect. …tell me what you like and I’ll just make you something, you know? And I feel like that’s more special to them because they’re like, “You just made this for me and I love it! You read my mind, you can read my body language, you know what I like and you… made something that was created just for me.” [And] I think signature cocktails especially for weddings are awesome because you make this cocktail after the groom, you make it after the bride, or bride-bride, groom-groom, whoever you know? And you just create something beautiful for them and everyone in the whole wedding gets to taste what they like, their one cocktail. And I think that’s awesome.

TB: Do you recommend a particular spirit as a base when it comes to weddings or popular events like that?

A: You can always go with vodka for the girls and whiskey for the guys. Gin is made from vodka, it’s just added with botanicals and juniper so gin is a great one, but a lot of people are like, “Ew, gin! I’ll take vodka.” And you’re like, “You know what you’re drinking, like, basically gin. Gin came from vodka. And I think, too, with gin, I think it’s better because it has more flavors and so it adds more to the cocktails, you know? It’s not like a, well vodka is like a neutral spirit, all you taste is just the vodka, gin has a bunch of different botanicals- lavender, citrus – all that stuff – juniper. But people remember back in the day, drinking really crappy stuff… Oh, and tequila. Tequila is a good one too so everyone can take shots. Maybe not make a drink of it, but make sure you have tequila.

TB: That’s always a good thing to have!

A: And beer and wine, you can’t go wrong with that.

TB: That’s very true. What would your signature cocktail be?

A: Oh, I love anything that’s made with coconut, or rum, or tequila. If I see anything on the menu that has like a shrub in it, I’m gonna order it. A shrub is like a fruit-based cocktail that is maturated in bitters overnight and then you add vinegar to it, and then you let it sit for like a week or two and then you double strain it, put it in a cocktail and it’s so great.

TB: That sounds so good. Would you recommend changing your signature cocktail up by season?

A: Yeah! Definitely. In winter I was playing around with brandy and cognacs, whiskey – warmer stuff. I’ll add absinthe to things. Absinthe is a good summer cocktail too, though, just gotta play with it. But more of the darker spirits, like whiskey, bourbon, rye, all that good stuff. In the summer, I did gin, definitely tequila…

TB: What is your favorite signature cocktail to make? Like, is there a go-to?

A: Yeah, it’s called Saint Germaine Bar liqueur, it’s great with pretty much anything. Like, you can just do like some fresh lemon and a little bit of simple syrup, add some grapefruit juice, add the Saint Germaine and boom you’re good. You can do it with vodka, gin, whiskey too. You can do a little bit of whiskey, I don’t really like it with tequila that much but yeah, vodka, gin, rum, I mean it’s all really good together. And it’s just like this simple cocktail and you add like a splash of champagne on top and it’s just like this simple cocktail that like people are just like “Oh my god, what is this?!”

TB: What do you think of garnishes? Are you like a Chopped judge where you hate inedible garnishes or…?

A: Okay, when I first started bartending I thought garnishes were so lame. I’m like, no, I make a good cocktail, you don’t need [garnishes]. Because with garnishes, to me, when you first add a lime wedge in there, I already added lime juice to your cocktail, you don’t need to add more. It’s like a chef, if a chef like puts something on the side, or gave you something and you just put ketchup on top, or you just put like, you know, A1 sauce, like no! It was great the way it was, then why are you even drinking it. But like gin and tonics, yeah, put a lime in it. But if you already have lime juice in the cocktail that you made…

But now, I am like obsessed with garnishes. I can see why they’re great for presentation. It makes more people look and go, “What is that?! I want that!” You know? They don’t even know what it tastes like, they’re just like I want that. And you’re like, okay, I got you.

Even like fancy cool tiki cocktails, that can be a garnish itself. You know, put it in a cool mug. So, garnishes are definitely a good deal. I like to take off like pineapple wedges, pineapple leaves on top, you know, even just one of those is simple, cheap, easy, makes it look fancy if it has pineapple in there. My garnish always has what’s inside. So I did pineapple with a pineapple leaf, if there’s lime, I’ll do a dehydrated lime leaf. Mint, I put mint in everything, they’re so cool. We have a dehydrator downstairs, and I’m like dehydrating everything. “What else can I put in this?!”

TB: That’s really fun! It sounds like you usually start cocktails from scratch, like, start with the spirit and work your way up. Do you ever build signature cocktails for certain events and build off of an existing drink?

A: Yeah, I mean, everything is from a classic cocktail – that’s kind of my theory. But, yeah, I like to ask them what kind of flavor profiles are you looking for, how cheap are you trying to go, what’s the price range, you gotta ask them all that. And then I’ll build that off. They’re like, “We want something fruity and summery”, so then, from working stuff in the past, I’ll just kinda think like, champagne, grapefruit is fruity, lemon. I’ll look up on the Internet, or I have a book I go through that will tell you like flavor profiles, and they’ll tell you what’s spring, what’s summer, what’s fall, like all, the fruits and vegetables…  Say it’s a summer cocktail. I’ll look up on the internet and be like, “What are the summer fruits?” And then I’ll just go, lemon/lime is all year round, and then I can go, like, pineapple is in right now, or coconut is in right now.

TB: So kind of going off of local things too.

A: Yeah! And like, dragonfruit, if you get the pink dragonfruits, that itself has just a beautiful color in it as well. It doesn’t have the really outstanding flavor, but so you can mix it with like anything. It’s kinda like, it’s not bland, but it doesn’t have the- where you’re like, THAT’S dragonfruit. You know? You’re just like, oh, that’s cool, you can tell it’s dragonfruit because it’s pink.

TB: It’s beautiful, look at it!

A: It’s so beautiful. Put a mint bouquet on that and bam!

TB: Mint bouquet, i love it. I’m sure a lot of the cocktails here are yours and I’m sure that they rotate through. What goes into naming a cocktail? How would you recommend naming it?

A: I am the worst at naming cocktails. I’ll go on the Internet and I’ll start looking up name generators or something. I’ll come up with stuff and people are just like, “Why did you call it that?” Like, is it really that bad of a name?! So, Trevor does all the naming here for the cocktails. And then when people come in, and I didn’t have a menu at Cin Cin, I would just name it after them or like a certain event they had that night.

TB: Would you recommend then, when naming your own signature cocktail for a wedding, playing off of your name or…

A: Well, what I would do is, when I do it for weddings, I ask them like, “Where did you guys meet?” Or like, “What is your favorite food to eat?”, or like, “What’s your favorite restaurant?” Or something like, what are some really cool spots that mean the most to you, and then you can name it off of that.

TB: And then it feels sentimental.

A: Right, it feels sentimental! And it’s a great conversation piece too, you know, so people are like, “Oh, why did you name it after this?” “Oh, the bride and groom they met here, this is Paris Love…”

TB: Like a little conversation starter while you’re at it. Cool! Is there anything else that you want to add that you want other people to know that are exploring that option for their wedding or event?

A: I notice that a couple of my girlfriends up in Seattle own a wedding/bar catering business, so what they said is, instead of going out and and buying like really expensive glassware, just like go to thrift stores and pick [some] up. It’s kind of cool to have different shaped glassware if that’s the kind of thing you’re into. If they don’t want that, then you obviously charge them to go get rented glassware. That’s like, one cool thing, just like a money saver.

Signature cocktails, and finding your favorite drinks to serve at your wedding just got WAY easier! Take these tips and give your wedding day just a little more personality… and pizzaz!

And listen… We feel pretty lucky to know such an amazing woman who totally rocks her field of work, and knows every little thing there is to know about making a drink that speaks to your soul. And you deserve to know her too!

Find her at Pignic Pub & Patio, and find the drink of your dreams… ❤️

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